Labour calls for higher minimum wage

The Yukon Federation of Labour is calling for another raise to the territorial minimum wage. "It's too minimum," said Vikki Quocksister, president of the federation.

The Yukon Federation of Labour is calling for another raise to the territorial minimum wage.

“It’s too minimum,” said Vikki Quocksister, president of the federation. “Certainly there are other territories and provinces that have a lower minimum wage than we do, but it’s too low.”

In fact, the Yukon has the second-highest minimum wage in the country. Last spring, the government raised it up to $10.30 an hour, up from $9.27.

At $11 an hour, Nunavut is the only jurisdiction with a higher minimum wage.

In a submission to the Yukon Employment Standards Board, the federation called on the government to move toward making the minimum wage a true “living wage.”

“What Yukon workers need is a minimum wage that actually reflects the high cost of living in Yukon,” said Quocksister. “A minimum wage, after all, could prevent full-time workers from living below the poverty line.”

The standards board is currently reviewing the legislation governing the territory’s minimum wage. From the end of September until last week it was accepting submissions from stakeholders and the public.

The labour federation wasn’t the only one to make a pitch for a living wage.

The Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition pointed in its submission to the board that a person working full-time, 40 hours a week at the current minimum wage will have a gross income of just $400 a week, or $20,800 a year.

“This yearly income places individuals and families just out of reach of the rising cost of living in the territory,” said the coalition in its submission.

But not everyone is in favour of another wage hike.

“Increasing wages is just going to be distortionary and inflationary, and that doesn’t serve anyone,” said Philip Fitzgerald, chair of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce. “We’d much rather have a dialogue on increasing the number of well-paying jobs in the Yukon, which increases the standard of living for everybody.”

Getting more people into better-paying jobs is something that both the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce and the Yukon Federation of Labour agree on.

However, Quocksister sees that as the next step. The first is making the minimum wage into a living wage, she said.

But that requires a broader discussion, said Fitzgerald.

“Any calls for a living wage should be involving significant dialogue with the government,” he said.

Neither the labour federation or the anti-poverty coalition could say what a Yukon living wage should be, but a report released in April by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives calculated a living wage for a worker in Vancouver should be $18.81 an hour.

While there are lots of Yukoners who make less than what would be considered a living wage, there are very few who actually make minimum wage.

Only 56 people are working for minimum wage, said Sue Edelman, chair of the Yukon Employment Standards Board.

Since 2005, the Yukon’s minimum wage has been increased by 42 per cent and the Yukon is the only jurisdiction in Canada that pegs its minimum wage to increases in the consumer price index.

That was a measure that the chamber originally opposed but has come to accept, said Fitzgerald.

“We don’t have an issue with where the minimum wage is at the moment and the fact that it’s tied to the consumer price index. What we have an issue with is the need for certainty,” he said. “If the minimum wage is tied to CPI, then that’s where all the increases should come from, not arbitrary increases.”

According to the latest statistics, the Yukon not only has one of the highest minimum wages in the country, but also one of the highest median incomes.

At 6.3 per cent, the Yukon also has one of the lowest unemployment rates.

But while there may be plenty of jobs, with vacancy rates still hovering around one per cent in Whitehorse, housing remains a challenge.

It’s one of the biggest expenses Yukoners face, and one of the biggest challenges facing low-wage earners, said Quocksister.

“The rent is unreal,” she said. “I’ve rented my whole life and I’ve never seen it this high.”

While the Yukon Bureau of Statistics puts the average rental unit at $850 a month, that number only includes buildings with three or more rental units. Trailers, houses, condo units, basement and other suites aren’t counted in its calculations, so the true average is likely higher.

The Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce has long advocated for the creation of more affordable housing units, but housing is not an issue that can be solved by simply hiking the minimum wage, said Fitzgerald.

“Raising people’s wages isn’t going to change a thing, everything else being equal,” he said. “It’s the lack of housing stock.

“If everybody’s wage went up, rent will go up as well.”

The Yukon Employment Standards Board is currently going through the submissions it has received from the public.

It has until the end of the year to present its findings and recommendations to Community Services Minister Elaine Taylor.

Contact Josh Kerr at

joshk@yukon-news.com

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